The Warriors probably wouldn’t be the dominant team they are today if they hadn’t made a bold move back in 2012 that changed the club’s long-term trajectory. That deal? Trading away Monta Ellis and acquiring Andrew Bogut. Of course, Bogut was an integral part of the Warriors success in 2015 and 2016. But it was trading away Ellis, whom many thought took to many shots and was hindering the value of Steph Curry, that jumpstarted the Warriors dominance.
In mid-March of the 2011-12 season, the Warriors dealt Ellis, their top-scorer averaging more than 21 points per game, to the Milwaukee Bucks for a package including Andrew Bogut and Stephen Jackson. It was a big deal, as Ellis had become a potent scorer.
At the time, NBA TV’s Dennis Scott thought the trade was a steal for the Bucks. Here’s an excerpt from a report by Bob Wolfey in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel…
At first, former NBA guard Dennis Scott, now an analyst for NBA TV, said he thought the Bucks and the Warriors got something in their trade Tuesday. But as he got into his comment, he used the word “steal,” as in the Bucks were committing trade larceny and the Warriors were the victims.
“For Bucks fans, they probably came to wit’s end with (Andrew) Bogut and injuries,” Scott said during a telephone interview on Wednesday. “Sometimes it’s good for a player in an organization to part ways. Both of you get a fresh start. You know this as well as I do – the Bucks can play good defense, they have a Scott Skiles personality. They’re gritty. They’re grimy. But they can’t score at times.
“So to get a guy like Monta Ellis who can come in and give you a big boost of offense, a guy who could be 1 for 25 in a tie game and go out and hit the game-winner for you.
“Realize this,” Scott said. “And this is where I think it is a steal. You give up two guys who were not playing anyway and you are almost in the playoffs. That is a hell of a move to get Monta Ellis and Ekpe Udoh, who has been playing better basketball lately. He can block shots. He can play defense. Then, depending on Kwame’s shoulder – I can’t comment on that too much because I don’t know the true specifics of his shoulder surgery – but if he was ever to get healthy in time for the playoffs, now you have three young guys to insert with (Ersan) Ilyasova, who has been playing well lately, and Drew Gooden, who has been playing out of his mind. Brandon Jennings – some of us thought he could have been an all-star – he had a spell there when he went cold. But he is back shooting the ball better. It’s an interesting match-up because outside of (Orlando’s) Dwight Howard there are not any dominant centers in the East.”
While the Bucks were seemingly excited about the deal, the sentiment from Warriors fans was different. Ellis was a fan-favorite in Oakland and many fans were not pleased. In fact, during Chris Mullin’s jersey retirement ceremony days after the deal, they relentlessly booed owner Joe Lacob for making the trade.
The fallout even hit home for Lacob. From a San Francisco Chronicle report…
“My fiancee is mad at me,” co-owner Lacob said, hanging out in the hallway off the court before Wednesday night’s game. “She hasn’t talked to me in two days.”
Turns out, it was a good trade.
Trading Ellis and letting Steph Curry take over at point ultimately transformed Golden State into contenders. In his first full season following the deal, Curry’s scoring average increased from 15 points per game to nearly 23. In the third year after the trade, Curry earned his first MVP, an NBA Championship, and he is now a full-fledged superstar. On top that, Bogut turned into an effective presence at the five. It was a super win for Lacob and the Warriors.
Meanwhile, Ellis did not have the impact the Bucks were expecting. In his one and a half seasons in Milwaukee, the Bucks made the playoffs once, in 2014, where they were swept by the Miami Heat. Ellis would never average 20 points per game again. Last year, Ellis even admitted that the Warriors wouldn’t have won a title if they had kept him around.
Those booing fans have almost certainly reversed course by now.